Bravotv.com: Sure, they got to relax with a cocktail, but what was the energy like when you shared the drink with the finalists?
Johnny Iuzzini: Of course by this stage of the game they all knew better than to think there wasn't something waiting for them over there. Once they all got a drink in their hands and relaxed a bit, they all began to tell stories of how they got started and some of the battle wounds they had from the industry. I got a glimpse into whom each of them were aside from they culinary talents. I really enjoyed my time with them.
Bravotv.com: Morgan jokes about drawing your name, which of the three finalists would you have wanted to sous-chef for?
JI: Wow -- super tough question. I think my style is most comparable to Yigit's followed by Morgan and then Danielle. That doesn't mean that that is the order I think they are in talent-wise. I think it would be fun and exciting to be able to assist any of the three chefs; they are all talented and skilled in different ways.
Bravotv.com: If you had to create a four-course tasting for this, what would your theme have been?
JI: I work with themes all the time. I think I would have chosen to focus on a theme of the season I was in. At Jean Georges, my FourPlays are based on either a single ingredient like chocolate or a season like summer or even a category like Late Harvest. I think sometime the hardest thing to do and the fastest way to show skill is to continually work with the same ingredients and show its versatility and your knowledge of it. Bring that same ingredient on a journey from something light and savory through a more dessert-orientated dish. Maybe hot in one course, cold in the next, smooth in one course, crunchy in the next.
Bravotv.com: What did you think of the overall concepts when they were told to you?
JI: I thought for the most part they seemed to be playing it safe, afraid to push the envelope. Maybe they felt like every time they did they got burned. I was especially concerned with Danielle's ice cream sampler. I knew she needed to bring more to the table than that, even if all her ice creams were amazing. I guess she didn't want to tell me everything ahead of time and ruin the surprise or maybe she just didn't know how she was going to bring it together. Either way, she delivered and it was really tasty.
Bravotv.com: Chef Fleming called Morgan a “typical male pastry chef.” Do you take offense to that? Were you surprised by how much everyone seemed to hate Morgan at that point?
JI: Yes I did take offense to that. In fact, I didn't know she said that until I watched the video to write these comments. It shows a certain amount of stereotyping, and as she said herself, she is "old school," and rather than turning her nose up at a technique that she doesn't know or understand, why not ask a question to understand it. Just because it isn't her style doesn't mean she shouldn't respect the fact that it is a good technique and her role is to support her chef. I was a bit disappointed in the position she took and how vocal she was regarding her feeling about him. As far as how the other chefs viewed him, yeah, I think they have a right to. He can be smug, arrogant, and downright nasty, but I also think that is part of his game plan in order to throw others off balance and lose focus of their own duties.
Bravotv.com: Who surprised you the most with their final meal?
JI: Danielle really stepped it up; her first course was mature, powerful, well thought-out and flat out delicious. She kind of just skated by and spent the most time in the bottom and middle compared to the two others. She really threw her heart and soul into the last challenge and it paid off -- it was the best food we received from her by far.
Bravotv.com: Do you have words for the other finalists who didn’t win?
JI: Again, this came down to a single performance. If there was a point system carried over from challenge to challenge, and then averaged out, we may have had a different winner. Maybe if Morgan's souffle cakes hadn't fallen or if one of Danielle's courses was composed and plated a bit more beautifully then it would have ended differently. That said they all worked so hard throughout the competition and all grew so much compared to the first day until the last. Two of the three chefs were in the bottom tier on the very first challenge. Everyone has days when things can go wrong, that doesn't make you a bad pastry chef, that makes you human. On this day, Yigit had the least amount of things go wrong and had the best conceived and tasting food. All three, make that all 12, chefs are winners in my book.
Bravotv.com: What was the best dessert you ate all season? Least favorite?
JI: I remember eating a lot of interesting and delicious foods. The ones that stand out the most to me are the first two courses of Yigit's final challenge. I loved the cucumber and yogurt in that first dessert, so crisp and attention-grabbing, as well as how fresh and light the second strawberry dessert was. So refined and delicate yet powerful. I also really loved Danielle's cheese course. So many different textures and degrees of flavor intensity. I can't say there were many things that I thought tasted bad. Most things that I didn't like were too weak, or too powerful and there were combinations i felt just didn't work. I have to say the single item that stands out most in my memory was the lemon ice cream that erika made. I was the only thing that I truly didnt like and had to force myself to re-taste to be sure.
Bravotv.com: How was the first season experience overall?
JI: For one I am very honored to have been chosen for the role of head judge. There are many, many really talented pastry chefs in our industry, and I hope I have represented them in a positive way. I tried to be very honest and fair and always explain myself in such a way that it would teach the chefs and help them from challenge to challenge. This is the first time our craft has truly been given the stage and it's own spotlight and I am just so proud to had been given an opportunity to play a role in showing the world what a true craft and skill pastry chefs possess.